Premier League Darts 2021: Jonny Clayton insists it is a ‘dream come true’ to lift the coveted title
The Ferret fairy-tale. Prior to the Masters, Jonny Clayton was not even in the Premier League discussion. Ironically, he would not have featured in the season-opening event had the PDC not extended the tournament to 24 players. The rest as they say, is history.
It has been a remarkable six months for the amiable Welshman. His World Cup success alongside Gerwyn Price provided the platform, and he has gone from strength-to-strength since, lifting the subsequent Masters title which saw him selected for this year’s Premier League.
Clayton was arguably the form man in world darts ahead of the tournament, but following a topsy-turvy conclusion to the campaign, he faced a winner-takes-all clash against Dimitri Van den Bergh to seal his play-off qualification.
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The 46-year-old duly delivered to secure his spot at Finals Night, before producing virtuoso displays to defeat five-time champion Michael van Gerwen and Grand Slam winner Jose De Sousa to scoop the £250,000 top prize on debut.
“Tonight, everything worked for me. The darts went well, my outshots went well, so it is a dream,” reflected Clayton in his post-match press conference.
“There’s a little Ferret stuck on the poster for next year! It is amazing; absolutely amazing. To be the first Welshman to lift that trophy – brilliant.”
Clayton was the only player ranked outside the top 16 to feature in this year’s Premier League, but his performances over the 17 nights in Milton Keynes provided further confirmation of his status as one of the world’s best.
‘The Ferret’ boasted a tournament average of over 99, posting averages of 103.25 and 100.18 against Van Gerwen and De Sousa respectively.
“Usually it is the Michael van Gerwen chant, the Gary Anderson chant, Peter Wright. To hear a Jonny Clayton chant is absolutely brilliant and I will keep that forever.”
Clayton on the crowd’s support…
The Ferret makes history
For the second consecutive season, the Premier League Darts final was contested between two debutants, but Clayton becomes the first man to win the title after finishing the league campaign in fourth position.
“When myself and Gerwyn won the World Cup, that was the biggest trophy that I had ever won in darts. I think that just boosted my confidence. In my mind I knew I could play darts and it has just gone on from there,” Clayton added.
“I’ve watched TV. I have watched Premier League’s, I have watched PDC darts. To be a name in the Premier League is fantastic, but to win a massive title like this, it’s just a dream come true.”
Clayton was one of several players to land their first major individual PDC title in a behind-closed-doors environment, and there was plenty of conjecture around whether the ‘new breed’ would thrive in a more partisan atmosphere.
The Welshman has answered that question emphatically. Fans returned for the final five nights of Premier League action and there were 1,000 spectators in attendance at the Marshall Arena to cheer Clayton on to victory.
“To get the fans back in and to hear them chanting my name – usually it is the Michael van Gerwen chant, the Gary Anderson chant, Peter Wright. To hear a Jonny Clayton chant is absolutely brilliant and I will keep that forever.”
Clayton is the seventh man to claim Premier League glory, and the first to do so after finishing the league campaign in fourth position. Yet despite his heroics, he will remain 17th on the PDC Order of Merit.
He is unquestionably in a false position. He has scooped a combined £310,000 from his two televised triumphs in 2021, but he sits outside the world’s top 16 due to both tournaments being unranked.
Nevertheless, he is undeterred by that reality and the prestige of landing one of the sport’s biggest prizes is sufficient reward. “I have to defend it every two years so I’ll just keep it,” he quipped.
Few would back against Clayton adding to his haul over the coming months, however. Sky Sports’ Mark Webster was full of praise for his compatriot, and paid tribute to his mentality.
“The emotion on Jonny’s face – I have never seen that from him ever. That shows how much this means and how hard he has worked. It is an incredible achievement,” Webster told Sky Sports.
“Jonny just shows exactly what you can achieve when you believe in yourself. After winning the World Cup you could see that trophy meant so much to him, just from a Wales perspective. In his career, it gave him another platform.”
Devon Petersen on Clayton…
“He said to me at the beginning of the year – this might be his only crack at it. Well Jonny, you’re the champion. You are coming back next year now and you will have to do it all again.
“It never looked like it was: ‘What am I going to achieve here?’ It never got to him that he was going to be the Premier League champion.”
Clayton’s scoring throughout this year’s Premier League has been sensational. His relentless 140 hitting has been integral to his success, but profligacy on the outer ring proved to be a stumbling block in the latter stages of the league phase.
The Ferret’ rectified that to some tune when it mattered, though. He converted 57 per cent of his attempts at double against Van den Bergh in their crucial Night 16 encounter – before maintaining his clinical edge on Finals Night.
The Pontyberem ace hit 21 of his 36 attempts at double across the semi-finals and final – an incredibly impressive success rate of 58 per cent.
Van Gerwen and De Sousa both registered ton-plus averages against him, but Clayton was a man possessed – his intensity and focus was unwavering; he was not going to be denied.
“He kept double-breaking Jose De Sousa and getting broken back and I was thinking, could he get frustrated? He did not,” Webster continued.
“He believed in himself. He was comfortable all night; he looked comfortable last night after the wobble on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“He has been the best player over the last few nights and that’s why he is up there with the title. Credit to him; it is a massive achievement for Jonny Clayton.”
Darts is back on your Sky Sports screens in July, with nine days of coverage from the iconic Winter Gardens and the World Matchplay – the action gets underway on Saturday July 17
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